Sunday Worship 14 April 2024

Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today’s service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 

to listen to the service and sing along with the hymns.  This will open up a new screen, at the bottom of the screen you will see a play symbol.  Press that, then come back to this window so you can follow along with the service.

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 14 April

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd

 
Introduction

Hello, and a warm welcome to worship today. My name is Peter Ranscombe – I’m a freelance journalist and copywriter, and I’m a locally-recognised lay preacher at Saughtonhall United Reformed Church in Edinburgh. Let’s begin our worship today with a word of prayer – let us pray…    

Prayer of Approach

God of the analogue and God of the digital,
thank you for bringing us together to worship you today,
from the east and from the west, 
from the north and from the south,
both in-person and online.

Please bless and protect all those Christians throughout the world 
who are persecuted for their faith 
and who even risk their lives to gather to worship you.

God of the noise and God of the quiet,
please empty any distractions from our hearts 
and from our minds today, 
so that we can focus on you and on your Word.

Please help us to put aside our shopping lists, 
our to-do lists, and our buckets lists, 
so that we can spend this time with you.

Please help us to forget our aches and our pains, 
our fears and our doubts, 
even just for this short hour, 
so we can worship you and recharge our spiritual batteries.

God of joy and God of energy,
Please peel back the layers of our egos 
and expose that part of your Holy Spirit that dwells inside us.
Please fill us with the energy we need to worship you – 
to sing our hymns, to tap our toes, to dance around 
if your Spirit moves us in that way.
Please help us to fill the buildings in which we find ourselves today
 with our praise as we worship you.
We ask this, and all these things, and praise you, and thank you, 
in the name of your son, and our risen saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Call to Worship

Our Call to Worship today comes from Psalm 4, reading verses 6 and 7:

“There are many who say, 
‘O that we might see some good! 
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!’ 
You have put gladness in my heart, 
more than when their grain and wine abound.”  

So let us, today, feel the light of God’s face shine on us as we worship.

Hymn     The Day of Resurrection
St. John of Damascus; Translator J. M. Neale  Public Domain  Sung by the Redeemer Choir, Austin, Texas.

The day of resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad;
the passover of gladness, the passover of God.
From death to life eternal, from earth unto the sky,
our Christ hath brought us over, with hymns of victory.

Our hearts be pure from evil, that we may see aright
the Lord in rays eternal of resurrection light;
and listening to his accents, may hear, so calm and plain,
his own “All hail!” and, hearing, may raise the victor strain.
 
Now let the heavens be joyful! Let earth the song begin!
Let the round world keep triumph, and all that is therein!
Let all things seen and unseen their notes in gladness blend,
for Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end.

Prayers of Adoration and Confession

God of creation,
during this season of Easter, 
we give you thanks for all your gifts that put gladness into our hearts:
for lambs leaping in the fields, for birds singing in the trees,
for the excitement and the anticipation of the summer that lies ahead.

God of mercy,
please forgive us for those moments 
when we’ve not cared for your awe-inspiring creation.

Please forgive us for those moments 
when we become obsessed with grain and wine, 
with demanding more and more, 
with ignoring your instructions to care for your planet 
and to care for each other.

Please forgive us for speaking when we should have stayed silent – 
and please forgive us for staying silent when we should have shouted 
at the top of our lungs to bring about your peace and your justice.

Please forgive us for acting when we should have stayed still – 
and please forgive us for staying still 
when we should have raced into action to demonstrate your love 
for the world and your love for our neighbours.

And, in this moment of silence, 
please forgive us for the sins that are weighing heavily on our hearts today…

[silence]

God of forgiveness,
thank you for washing away our sins 
through Jesus’s death on the cross.
Thank you for raising Jesus from the dead, 
and in doing so raising us to new life with you.
As your forgiven people, 
please hear us now as we say the words of the Lord’s Prayer, 
which Jesus taught to his friends… Our Father…

Hymn     Tell Me The Old, Old Story
Kate Hankey b 1834 Public Domain Sung by the Adoration Ensemble

Tell me the old, old story
of unseen things above,
of Jesus and His glory,
of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply,
as to a little child;
for I am weak and weary,
and helpless and defiled.

Tell me the old, old story;
tell me the old, old story,
tell me the old, old story
of Jesus and His love.

Tell me the story slowly,
that I may take it in –
that wonderful redemption,
God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often,
for I forget so soon;
the early dew of morning
has passed away at noon. 

Tell me the old, old story;
tell me the old, old story,
tell me the old, old story
of Jesus and His love.

Tell me the same old story
when you have cause to fear
that this world’s empty glory
is costing me too dear.
Yes, and when that world’s glory
is dawning on my soul,
tell me the old, old story: 
“Christ Jesus makes me whole.”

Tell me the old, old story;
tell me the old, old story,
tell me the old, old story
of Jesus and His love.
 

Prayer of Illumination

God of the story, please open our hearts and our minds 
to hear or to read your words and your Word. In the name of Christ, Amen.

Reading     St Luke 24: 36b-48

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. Yet for all their joy they were still disbelieving and wondering, and he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Hymn     You Are Called To Tell The Story
Ruth Duck, b.1947 © 1992, GIA Publications, Inc. OneLicence # A-734713  
Sung by the Choir of St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, 
and used with their kind permission.

You are called to tell the story, 
passing words of life along, 
then to blend your voice with others 
as you sing the sacred song. 
Christ be known in all our singing, 
filling all with songs of love.  

You are called to teach the rhythm 
of the dance that never ends, 
then to move within the circle, 
hand in hand with strangers, friends. 
Christ be known in all our dancing, 
touching all with hands of love.  
 
You are called to set the table, 
blessing bread as Jesus blessed, 
then to come with thirst and hunger, 
needing care like all the rest, 
Christ be known in all our sharing, 
feeding all with signs of love.  

May the One whose love is broader 
than the measure of all space 
give us words to sing the story, 
move among us in this place. 
Christ be known in all our living, 
filling all with gifts of love.  
 
Sermon     ‘What happens next?’

Let us pray… May the words of my lips, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, God our rock and our redeemer.
Amen.

You can’t beat a good cliffhanger.

Whether it’s in books or television series or films, writers use cliffhangers to make their audience come back again for the next instalment.

Aaron Sorkin – the creator of television series including The West Wing and films such as The Social Network – is one of the masters of the cliffhanger.

The West Wing in particular is littered with classic examples.
In the episode entitled “Two Cathedrals”, at the end of the series’ second season, after being asked by a reporter at a press conference whether he will run for re-election, President Bartlett puts his hands in his pockets, looks away, and smiles.

The end credits then roll, and the audience is left waiting for an entire summer to find out his answer.

It’s a trick Sorkin used again and again.

At the end of the first season of The West Wing, an assassination attempt had left the audience in suspense, while the fourth season – Sorkin’s last on the show – ended with the president being relieved of his duties by a Republican rival amid a hostage crisis involving his youngster daughter, Zoe.

A decade earlier, the writers behind Star Trek: The Next Generation used the same technique between their third and fourth seasons.
With their captain captured by an evil race of aliens known as The Borg, the crew of the Starship Enterprise fire on the Borg’s cube-shaped vessel to stop it reaching Earth – before a summer-long wait to find out if they were successful.

Closer to home, programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing do the same thing – its main performance is shown on a Saturday night, before leaving viewers on tenterhooks, waiting until Sunday to find out which dancers will be eliminated.

The same is true with movies – twenty years ago, audiences flocked to cinemas to watch New Zealand director Peter Jackson bring novelist JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to the big screen, with the film split into three parts released over three successive Christmases.

Last year, French director Martin Bourboulon split his version of The Three Musketeers into two parts – “D’Artagnan”, released at Easter, and “Milady”, shown at Christmas, with a cliffhanger in between featuring Constance being kidnapped to keep audiences hooked.

Two of Disney’s highest-grossing series – the Star Wars franchise and the Marvel superhero films – also keep luring cinemagoers back again and again by using cliffhangers and post-credit scenes.

Many of those examples of cliffhangers from the gogglebox and from the flicks draw on works of literature.

Novelist Charles Dickens was one of the best-known exponents of the cliffhanger – his stories were originally serialised in weekly or monthly instalments, a widely used Victorian tool later revived by The Scotsman newspaper for Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street series of stories.

All of these examples of cliffhangers are designed to prompt their audiences – their readers or listeners or viewers – to ask: “What happens next?”

What happens after the curtain comes down? What happens after the titles roll? What happens after the last page is turned?

Whether intentionally or simply as a result of the editing process that’s brought our Bible to us, the writer of the Gospel according to Luke uses a series of cliffhangers to lead the reader, Theophilus, “Friend of God”, from the Resurrection through to Ascension and Pentecost at the start of the gospel’s sequel, The Acts of the Apostles.

So, let’s examine together what God may be saying to us through today’s passages from Luke, and how we might apply these teachings to our individual lives and to our life together as congregations…

Sitting here at the start of the twenty-first century, it’s all too easy for us as Christians to feel a wee bit smug – we’ve read the gospels, we’ve read the New Testament, we know what happens next.

But let’s place ourselves in the shoes of the disciples for a moment.
After the Crucifixion – after Jesus died to wash away our sins – they didn’t know what would happen next.

Would they be pursued by the Romans? Would they flee back to Galilee? Would they return to their lives as fishers and as tax collectors and as zealots?
Then they’re faced with the Resurrection – with Jesus rising from the dead to give us all eternal life through a personal, one-to-one relationship with God – the ultimate twist in the story of God’s plan for reconciliation.

The earliest reader of Luke’s gospel – whether they’re “Theophilus” a person or simply any “Friend of God” – is then faced with a series of cliffhangers that keeps them asking, “What happens next?”.
There’s the scene at the tomb following the resurrection – what happens next?

There’s the scene on the road to Emmaus – what happens next?
There’s today’s passage when the disciples and their companions are gathered together, and Jesus suddenly appears to them – what happens next?

And then the writer leads us on to Jesus’s ascension into heaven, told at both the end of Luke’s gospel and at the start of Acts, and then on once more to the day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, all the time prompting the reader to ask again and again, “What happens next?”.

Our gospel passage today also shines a bright spotlight on our reactions when that question is answered, and we find out “what happens next”.
Last week, we were reminded about the story of Thomas in the passage set aside in the lectionary, the list of suggested readings laid out for each Sunday and for each day in between to help guide us as we read our way through much of the Bible.

The writer or editor of the Gospel according to John chooses to tell the story of Thomas not being there when Jesus appeared to the disciples, in contrast to verse 33 of chapter 24 in Luke.
Thomas doesn’t believe the other disciples when they tell him later that Jesus has been resurrected – he earns his nickname, “Doubting Thomas”.

Yet our passage today spells out for us that all the disciples had doubts – even when Jesus was standing right there with them.

As we heard or read in verse 38: “He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?’”

It wasn’t just Thomas who doubted, it was all the disciples, even when faced with the evidence of their – and our – resurrected saviour standing right there in front of them while they were gathered in Jerusalem.

No Zoom, no Teams, no Skype, no “calling it in”: Jesus is right there in front of them.

Jesus invites them to touch him and feel him – and, when even that’s not enough, he has a fish supper to prove he’s real.

In verses 41 to 43: “Yet for all their joy they were still disbelieving and wondering, and he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’. They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”

For me, this passage highlights that it’s not the doubt that’s important – it’s what happens next that’s important – it’s what we do after we have doubts that matters.

And that’s because of what Jesus said next to the disciples in verses 45 to 48: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”

“You are witnesses of these things.” We are now witnesses of these things. And so, as we move into the final part of TODAY’S address, let’s examine together how we can take what we’ve explored in our gospel passage and apply it to our lives as individuals and to our life together as congregations…

You can’t beat a good cliffhanger – and you can’t beat a good song either. The Holy Spirit guided me to one song in particular while preparing for today’s worship – “Read all about it – part three” by Scottish singer Emeli Sande.

Sande sang “Read all about it – part three” at the closing ceremony for the Olympics Games in London back in 2012. She had also sung “Abide with me” at the opening ceremony. Sande had recorded “Read all about it – part one” with the rapper Professor Green, with Sande singing the chorus – the song had spent two weeks at the top of the charts in October 2011. Professor Green recorded part two of the song for Q magazine with singer-songwriter Fink. And part three featured Sande on her own, singing her own verses as well as the chorus, with a line from one of those verses being used as the title for her debut album, “Our version of events”. Even a decade later, Sande’s rendition of the song still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end – one of the moments when you can feel the Holy Spirit moving through secular music as much as through an organ voluntary or a hymn by Charles Welsey or Isaac Watts. Her lyrics have a spiritual dimension to them that speaks to me about our journey as Christians and as congregations and as this wider United Reformed Church: “You’ve got the words to change a nation, but you’re biting your tongue, You’ve spent a lifetime stuck in silence, afraid you’ll say something wrong,
If no one ever hears it, how we gonna learn your song?”

In the song’s bridge or middle eight she asks:

“Yeah, we’re all wonderful, wonderful people, so when did we all get so fearful? Now we’re finally finding our voices, so take a chance, come help me sing this…”

When we have doubts, when we all get so fearful, it’s what happens next that counts. 

  • We can read our Bibles, exploring in more depth the passages or ideas have may have given us fears or doubts. 
  • We can pray to God for help with our fears and our doubts, and then listen to God for answers, through the Holy Spirit’s words to us, and in the Holy Spirit speaking to us through other people. 
  • We can speak to our fellow worshipers – our fellow congregants or members – about our fears and our doubts. 
  • We can speak to our elders or deacons, and to our ministers and lay preachers.

And then, once we’ve wrestled with our fears and our doubts – just like those first disciples in Luke chapter 24 – and sometimes when we’ve not even yet finished wrestling with our fears and our doubts, we’ll get the chance to share our stories.

Sometimes those stories will be from the Bible. Sometimes those stories will be about Jesus. Sometimes those stories will be about God’s utterly incomprehensible and overwhelming love for the world and for each and every one of us too.

Sometimes those stories will be from us – they’ll be our own stories, our personal stories, God’s living story played out for the world through our lives.

For us as congregations and for us as this wider United Reformed Church, it’s important for us to share our living story.

It’s a story about unity – about Congregationalists and Presbyterians, about Churches of Christ Reformers and Scottish Congregationalists, all coming together to focus on the beliefs that unite us, rather than to quarrel over the details that could divide us.

It’s a story about openness – about travelling on this journey with friends who are Anglicans and Episcopalians, Baptists and Methodists, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians, Moravians and Independents.

It’s a story about God’s inclusive love – about roles being open to people of all genders, and about baptism being a blessing both to adults and to infants.

It’s a story about that personal relationship with God – about not being told what to think or what to believe, but instead to explore God’s love for us and our neighbours.

And that’s a story for which the world is crying out – a world that’s obsessed with individuality, with selfishness, with greed, with false influencers, with social media – a world that’s searching for something deeper, for something more.

It’s a world that’s crying out to hear our version of events.

For us as individuals, it’s also important for us to share our living story.

For some of us, our story might be about a moment when God changed our lives, a testimonial to rival the road to Damascus or the road to Emmaus, a transformation like Abraham and Jacob, like Moses and David.
For many of us, our story might not feature that “born again” moment – instead, our story might be made up of a series of those moments, of growing up with faith, of feeling God close to us throughout our lives, of feeling the Holy Spirit guiding us to volunteer with a charity, or donate to a food bank, or visit prisoners in jail.

There’s no hierarchy there – one experience isn’t better or worse than another – they’re simply different, just as everyone’s experience of God is different and is worth sharing.

By sharing our stories, as individuals and as congregations and as a wider church, we’re answering that question, “What happens next?”, and we’re fulfilling Jesus’s command to be witnesses to His death on the cross to wash away our sins, and his triumph over the grave to give us all eternal life in a personal relationship with God.

Let us pray…

God of what happens next,
please help us to sing, 
please help us to shout, 
please help us to share our version of events, 
so that we can tell the world about your story, 
and so that we can tell the world about how your story has transformed our story. In the name of Christ, Amen.

Hymn     I Will Sing the Wondrous Story
Francis H. Rowley (1886) Public domain sung by Bessacarr Evangelical Church and used with their kind permission.

I will sing the wondrous story of the Christ who died for me.
How He left His home in glory for the cross of Calvary.
I was lost, but Jesus found me, found the sheep that went astray,
threw His loving arms around me, drew me back into His way.

I was bruised, but Jesus healed me; faint was I from many a fall;
sight was gone, and fears possessed me, but He freed me from them all.
Days of darkness still come o’er me, sorrow’s paths I often tread,
but the Saviour still is with me; by His hand I’m safely led. 

He will keep me till the river rolls its waters at my feet;
then He’ll bear me safely over, where the loved ones I shall meet.
Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story of the Christ who died for me,
sing it with the saints in glory, gathered by the crystal sea.

Offertory Prayer

God of the story,
You’ve given us your story to tell – through Jesus’ life here on Earth, through the whispers and the shouts of your Holy Spirit, 
and through the ways in which your story has changed our story.
Thank you for the gift of your story.
Your love for us knows no bounds – 
you created this planet and each one of us, 
and you love us more than we will ever know.
Anything we offer back to you – no matter how big or how small – 
will pale in comparison to your love for us.
Yet please use these gifts of our money – 
and please use the gifts of our time and our talents – 
in your service, so that we can share your story.
We ask this, and all these things, and praise you, and thank you, 
in the name of your son, and our risen saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

God of peace, we bring before you now 
those places in the world that need to hear your story.
All those places that need to hear your story of love 
to silence the screams of war.
All those places that need to hear your story of love 
to silence the cries of discord.
All those places that need to hear your story of love 
to free people from the chains of empire in all its forms.
Please bring peace to your world, Merciful God.

God of guidance,
please guide all those people 
who we place in positions of responsibility.
Please bless and guide: 
our monarch; 
our prime minister, first ministers, and chief ministers,
and all our representatives in our parliaments and assemblies 
and councils.
Please place your gospel story on their hearts, 
so that they feed the hungry, health the sick, clothe the naked, 
and share your love with our neighbours, 
whether they live next door or on the other side of the world.

God of healing,
We bring before you now all those people whose stories involve pain.
Please heal those who are sick, whether in body or in mind.
Please strengthen those for whom treatment is coming to an end.
Please comfort those who grieve for the loss of a loved one.
And, in a moment of silence, we pray for all those people whose names you’ve placed on our hearts today…

silence

Please help them all to hear your story of everlasting love and hope, demonstrated for us and for all eternity 
through Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection at Easter.

God of witness,
thank you for all those people who help us to tell our story – 
thank you for our Ministers and our Church Related Community Workers, our elders and our lay preachers, 
our office bearers and our volunteers.
Thank you for the faith and the witness 
of your United Reformed Church and our ecumenical partners 
across these three nations and these three crown dependencies.

Please bless all those who serve you and your congregations.
Thank you for the faith and the witness 
of those who have sat in these pews 
and in these seats 
and in these homes before us – 
the relatives and the friends, 
the companions and the guides, 
who through their lives have shared your story with us.

Please help us to follow their example 
and share our story and your story 
with our relatives and our friends, 
our neighbours and even our enemies.

Please lead us to that wonderful moment when all your people will sing about the same story, about your overwhelming love and grace, in this time and throughout all time, world without end. Amen.

Hymn     O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing
Charles Wesley 1739 Public Domain 250 Mass Voice Choir from various Churches in Chennai and used with their kind permission.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,
to spread thro’ all the earth abroad
the honours of thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
that bids our sorrows cease,
’tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’tis life and health and peace.

He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
 
Blessing

Our worship has ended – now our service begins.

And so may we go from this place: 
ready to sing our song,
ready to tell our story,
and ready to share our version of events…

…and may the grace of our Risen Saviour, Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us, and all those we love, and all those we ought to love, this day, and forevermore.  Amen.

Come to the God who loves you.

 

 

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